Yes, history is probably not the best reason to dine at a restaurant, but when you’re in a town with as limited good dining options as Mussoorie or Landour: it’s reason enough. Especially when the food is actually (mostly) pretty good.
Emily’s is the restaurant at the Rokeby Hotel in Landour, slightly above Chaar Dukaan. The interesting bit about Rokeby (which was built in 1840 by a Captain G N Cauthy) is its literary connections. First of all, there’s the fact that Rokeby was named after Walter Scott’s poem
Rokeby. (Mussoorie and Landour between them have a number of old houses that were named after places mentioned in Scott’s work—he was apparently a popular writer in this part of the world). Secondly, there’s the fact that Rokeby’s best-known owner was the inspiration for a literary work. 1878 onwards, Rokeby was leased to Frederick ‘Pahari’ Wilson, an adventurer who was the inspiration for Kipling’s famous The Man Who Would Be King.
For us, Rokeby Hotel’s main draw was its restaurant, Emily’s, which we’d seen given very good reviews on various websites. Even friends on a Facebook foodie group said it was good—so we landed up one day for lunch.
Emily’s sits on the first floor of the hotel. The stairs leading up are wide, wooden, and warped. The restaurant itself looks like an afterthought; it’s obvious that this was some sort of verandah—like a wrap-around porch—which has now been enclosed. The décor is cheery and quaint, with lovely yellow-painted and blue-painted sideboards, charming old bric-a-brac, and even a small square balcony where you can sit and have a leisurely meal away from the bustle of the restaurant.
Our first taste of just how busy Emily’s is was when a waiter, rushing about, told us that they didn’t have any tables. At least 20 minutes, we were told. And no, the empty tables we could see were all reserved. We hung around in the tiny circular foyer (rather reminiscent of a turret) for about that long, and then—because one table finally did get free—were ushered in.
The staff at Emily’s were apparently not being able to cope with the crowd, and while the waiter handed us a pair of menus as soon as we were seated, he vanished immediately after, and we sat about for the next ten minutes or so, waiting for him to take our orders. We overheard the people at the next table reminding a passing waiter that it had been 45 minutes since they’d ordered their food, so could they get in, please?
Our waiter eventually did come by, and we ordered our food—but it took about half an hour (including three reminders!) for our meals to arrive. This, when it was food for just two people. My husband had ordered a shepherd’s pie: while this didn’t look too great (the mashed potato on top was too blond—we prefer it nicely golden), it tasted good, with the meat underneath well-seasoned and delicious. What did surprise me was the fact that in Emily’s, they obviously don’t believe in the dictum of two veg (or even one veg) when it comes to a pie as a main course: my husband only got a soup plate in which the pie had been baked. That was it.
Still, his food was far better than mine. I’d ordered a dish of almond-crusted fish, with mash and sautéed vegetables. What I got was an overdone fillet of fish, sprinkled (not crusted, mind you) with thickly chopped almonds—not blanched, by the way—over all of which a generous quantity of gloopy tomato sauce had been poured. Even if I liked tomato sauce (I don’t, and wouldn’t have ordered the fish if the menu had indicated it came with this), I probably wouldn’t have liked it. Both the vegetables and the fish had the appearance and texture of something that had been cooked at least 15 minutes earlier and had been sitting on a hot plate waiting for the shepherd’s pie to be done.
Going by how mediocre my main course had been, I hadn’t been holding out much hope for anything good in the way of dessert. However, we were both feeling like having something sweet, so my husband chose a New York chocolate cake, while I ordered a sticky toffee pudding. These were served up much sooner—in about five minutes or so. The chocolate cake was nothing to write home about: it was drowned in thick chocolate sauce, so much of it that one could barely taste the cake. My sticky toffee pudding was, on the other hand, simply divine. It was moist, warm, packed with flavour, and served with a deliciously buttery, caramel sauce. And all of it not too sweet either (a problem I’ve encountered with more than one toffee pudding): this had a lovely hint of that burnt caramel flavour that marks a great toffee pudding.
We paid Rs 1,322 for our meal (inclusive of taxes) plus a tip. Fair enough, considering we had a main course, a pudding, and a glass of lemonade each—but I do wish the fish had been better. Emily’s serves, besides the Western food, also all the popular north Indian dishes: butter chicken, tandoori chicken, etc—I have a suspicion they may be somewhat better cooked than what we’d ordered.